Thy Will Be Done

Michael Perry

SOMEONE I KNOW recently learned she has a rare cancer that’s already at stage four. She’s getting treated for the cancer, as well as for various complications. I’m not surprised she’s battling the disease. She’s strong, independent and driven.

What is surprising? She’s never written a will, and must now deal with that along with a serious medical issue. Moreover, among her three adult children, one still lives at home—and has a child of her own. Both mother and child are entirely dependent on Grandma for financial support.

Why don’t people get wills drawn up? It may be the complexity. Who should get the house? Who should get the car—or should it be sold and cash distributed? Who should get Grandpa’s watch? Would a trust be better? It can seem like a lot of decisions, especially if you’re dealing with a life-threatening illness.

My advice: Don’t let yourself end up in this situation—and don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Pull up a free or low-cost template for your state from the many available on the internet and fill in the blanks. If it helps, assume you only have an hour left in the world to do it. Keep it simple. Consider letting your heirs figure out how to handle the house, the car and various possessions. The most important thing is to make clear that these assets should pass to them. Head down to your local notary, grab a couple of witnesses who aren’t named in the will, and you’ll be done.

Naming someone to take care of minor children or pets is more involved, as you’d want to discuss this with whoever you’re naming. In some states, designated guardians may also need to sign, showing that they’ve accepted their role.

Wait, don’t you need a lawyer? Maybe, maybe not. In any case, do a will yourself first. It will help you start thinking about what you want. And if you should die before you get around to consulting an attorney, you won’t die intestate—meaning, without a will.

Having a will is crucial to reduce legal wrangling and family fights after your death, including battles over who should take care of any children still considered minors. As for Grandpa’s watch and other possessions, create a document separate from the will that lists your desires. This isn’t legally binding, but it can help your heirs and executor know what your preferences would have been. Such a list is also easier to add to or change than the will itself.

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